Thursday, 20 May 2010

Canny cooking.......

My Mother has been really very sick, and certainly since Charlie had his accident, I have not been working at all. Not even a tiny contract.

I have kind of come to the realisation that working around three children in different schools, and around a sick mother is virtually impossible, unless I give them all up to childcare and a local nursing home. For the time being, anyway.

SO, as a result, we have reviewed our budget. One of the first things that I have control to change and economise on is the groceries. Canny cooking. Frugal food.

I love to cook, and I am a fairly good cook, thankfully. I have aprons! My mother did a brilliant job at imparting all of her knowledge. (She was classically trained Cordon Bleu cook who spent a lot of time cooking around Europe in the early 1960's. I am very appreciative of the techniques I learned at her side as a small child, almost by osmosis. I dare say I take these skills for granted.)

My studies at uni were in Hotel & Catering Management. Then I worked in the catering industry for what felt like a million years.

So I am a foodie, of sorts.

I am less gastronomy driven now that I on this journey to diminish myself. In as much as I use less butter, cheese and cream.

But of course, I use a lot more fresh fruit and vegetables, and a lot more lean meat and fish.

So I have become a very canny shopper, for all the above reasons.

I am not working, so I do have time to shop around and use a variety of different food shops.

I'll be honest, I get a real kick out of sourcing really good cheap fresh produce. And then producing really good fresh food for the fab five.

I delight in finding butchers and fishmongers that can source the exact cuts of meat and range of fish that I want. Organic preferably.

So I shop, for the week, at several different shops:

I have a small and very untrendy fruit shop that I go to on a Monday when he sells so much seasonal produce off in bulk very cheaply. Last week I scored rock melons at 2 for $1, and fresh rhubarb for $1.99 a kilo.

I buy my bread in bulk from a local bakery at 99c a loaf and freeze 8 loaves a week.

I buy meat from a local butcher, and also scour Coles for end of day markdowns......often 50% off. (Supermarket meat is not great, but their full joints of meat, when Weber'd, are as good as organic.)

I buy milk, and eggs by the dozens, and cheese and small good meats at my local deli, where the turnover is very high. I get  all the meat and cheese sliced exactly as I want it, at a cheaper price than the packaged stuff.

I buy fresh coffee beans, grains and pulses from a local Continental deli, whose turnover is also high, and their prices are low.

And fish from either the supermarket when it is on very special, or mostly from a local fishmonger. (They have only a small amount of fresh catch, but it really is fresh, and gorgeous.)

So at least 7 different shops. Certainly NOT as convenient as charging round the supermarket getting everything in one place.

I have established relationships with the shop owners, so I feel able to ask for specific items, and I know I am always getting their best produce. They take care of me.

And so when I came across the brilliant $120 Food Challenge, created by Sandra, I was thrilled. Her challenge is to feed a family well,  for $120 a fortnight. Her approach to food, her need to shop economically, her concept of eating WELL on a very small budget appeals to me enormously. $120 – Fourteen Meals – No Pressure

Her beautiful blog is the first place I go to when menu planning for the week. That says it all really, doesn't it?

The recipes are clear, simple, and the blog is easy to navigate. The photography is good. The meals are family friendly, with a wonderful variety of treats.  The ingredients are seasonal. The dishes are all economical, are Sandra utilises "best buys" based on her local supermarkets pricing. (And whilst Sandra is in NSW and I am in SA, the Coles pricing is very similar, and certainly I have noticed that my local butcher (who is cheap and good) : his pricing trends are similar.)
So, for my canny cooking, my best tips to myself are these:

~ Menu plan consistently.
~ Build a great pantry of basics.
~ Shop around for specials. Really shop around.
~ Get to know your local smaller shops.
~ Balance out cost and time
~ Insist that cheap food must also be great food.

Tell me, if you need to economise, what is your first step?



  1. Hi Lucy! I admire your ability to cook and to own aprons. I am Debra out of "Everybody Loves Raymond" when it comes to the kitchen, and I don't have an apron. If I bought an apron would I suddenly become food-worthy? I am off to scour that $120 in 14 days website. Thanks for the headsup! I always stick to the $10 a dinner budget for the family, but that doesn't include lunches, breakfasts and kids snacks ... so I am intrigued ....
    Have a great morning Lucy! Keep up the great work.

  2. Hi Lucy. I'm sorry to hear of your mum being sick :( . I really like this post and cant wait to follow your link tonight for the other blog. It sounds like just the challenge I need. I will do a blog post soon about how I scrimp with the shopping, bringing down the groceries bills is definitely on my to do list this year :).

  3. Love that $120 website. I now spend about $150 on groceries for a family of four, this is down from nearly double that about a year ago. One massive expense we got rid of was breakfast cereal - now I make granola and we have porrige or weetbix - it was costing us around $25 a week on things like Sultana Bran and Special K.

    My biggest saver has been to make all of our bread products. I am now quite the dab hand at a loaf - using the bread machine, or sometimes by hand (but have had more disasters that way!!) I don't use breadmix, but bread flour. I also make muffins, pikelets all that sort of thing. It means I'm in the kitchen A LOT, but now I'm into the routine its okay, was exhausting at first. This website frequently inspires me. We have spend-no-money days and weeks thanks to her which are hugely satisfying, but take a bit of planning. I've got into the habit of planning meals from the freezer/pantry before I then go on to plan 'new' meals that will require buying things, from that website as well.

    This has all come about from a period of unemployment that was supposed to last 4 months max and went for 14 - and we managed to hold onto the house due to all that frugal living - now hubs is working again, and its all good, but I've so got into the habit that frugal is still the way I do things.

    Sorry about your Mum and Charlie and I know how fast you must be moving to keep up with 3 kids!!

  4. Sorry to hear your mom is sick. Thanks for the food challenge blog link - good recipes over there! My best money saving tip is shop according to whats on sale. We go to 3 or 4 different stores too and it really does save money. They're all close by, so gas expense really isn't an issue. Saving money is alot of work!

  5. Wew. I feel tired

    *sits down*

    This is how I used to shop pre-Chickadee Rett Syndrome. Now, I'm just happy to get a list made and get there. I am going to check out that site and hope it doesn't make me crazy!

  6. Great post! What do I do...

    - I cook most things from scratch. That includes pasta sauce and lots of other yummy's.
    - I sometimes cheat with tin tom's and jarred passata but I buy it on special. I'll be the one with a trolley full of the stuff at the F&V when it's cheap as chips.
    - We rarely get take away anymore (the joy's of gluten free) so when we buy food out it's good food and that's how we spoil ourselves.
    - I freeze, freeze, freeze. I'll be the one on a Saturday with two or three things cooking on the stove and then being frozen. That reminds me I need to get another freezer.
    - Buy in bulk. Nuts, meat, F&V. Anything that can be frozen is good for bulk. Again another reason why I need another freezer.
    - Get good containers to store your F&V in the fridge. It will last longer saving you money.
    - Plan meals! For the week! Kikki.K has an awesome weekly meal planner that's up on my fridge.

    There you have it. Easy peasy!

  7. Oh yeah. Meal plans are my best friend, and I lurve frugal cooking. Great post Lucy!! The first thing we do is eat out the freezer- we can probably get a week of meals between al the bits and pieces we've frozen over the weeks before. It's great for when we have a big bill to pay that week! ;)

  8. I am so sorry about your mum being sick. xoxo
    I loved this post but I must confess I am now addicted to home delivery shopping because it is free usually AND I don't have to face the shops with offspring in tow. That said, I do look for bargains online and try to get value for my dollar. I like menu planning as well and usually make my meals from scratch. My new pressure cooker is like my best friend now! Will definitely pop over to check out this site xo

  9. Thank you for this. Cutting the food budget is one thing we need to do! My only problem is that living out of town it can be costly for me to shop around due to the cost of fuel. Is it worth a 50 minute round trip for $2kg mince Saturday only special from the meatworks on the other side of town?

    Thankfully near by there is a large milk/butter/cheese factory. So I tend to go there for butter(not as cheap as home brand, but very yummy) milk and cream. For some reason the cheese is still expensive there. Even the servo next door has good pricing on fuel.

  10. We joined a CSA this year, so I'm hoping my grocery budget takes a big drop this summer. It was a large outlay of cash up front, but we're hoping we can really make the most of heaps of fresh produce every week by freezing and/or canning whatever we can't finish.

    I, however, have no idea how to can, so I'm not sure how that end of the plan is going to go! ;-)

  11. Thank you all so much for the great ideas in your comments: it seems that this topic is close to all our hearts...

  12. Hi- I found your blog through the blog hop and am so glad I did!! Great posting--14 meals for $120! Wow!

  13. Thank you, I have recently been searching for information about this topic for ages and yours is the best I have discovered so far.

  14. Finally, an issue that I am passionate about. I have looked for information of this caliber for the last several hours. Your site is greatly appreciated.

  15. nice post. thanks.


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